Derry do enough to see off Armagh in tense Ulster minor football final

The Orchard county ran the hot favourites very close in Omagh

Derry Players Celebrate  3  .jpg
Derry Players Celebrate 3 .jpg (seamus loughran)

Electric Ireland Ulster MFC final Derry 0-12 Armagh 1-7

A SWIPE of the Derry goalkeeper’s glove may have saved his side from what would have been a stunning defeat but the Oak Leafers fully deserved to hold on to the Ulster minor trophy.

An Armagh victory would have been astonishing on the day itself, never mind that they’d lost to the same opponents by 17 points in the recent group stages.

Derry were ahead almost throughout, apart from for around five minutes after the only goal of this tight, tense decider, from Armagh full-forward Eoin Duffy after 20 minutes.

Yet the holders almost lost their grip to a last-gasp second major score from Armagh when Armagh defender Conall Wilson launched a long-range effort which Jack McCloy swatted away from just under his crossbar, with Derry having to survive a subsequent scramble in their square.

Derry Players Celebrate.jpg
Derry Players Celebrate.jpg (seamus loughran)

Having won that recent group meeting handsomely, by 2-18 to 0-7, Derry boss Damian McErlain knew he had to get his players’ heads right, and feels that was achieved:

“You’re giving all the messages, but whether they sink in… I think they did sink in, there was no complacency there. We knew how hard we had to work.

“The key things in games like these is not to give the ball away, in terms of giving the other team energy. We’re pleased with the composure and maturity we showed.”

Derry certainly had to display plenty of patience and persistence.

Armagh manager Aidan O’Rourke made five changes from the side which started that thrashing and the template was set for Derry attack against Armagh defence and counter-attack.

This time Armagh significantly reduced Derry’s scoring, but didn’t manage to increase their own return sufficiently, so Derry now go on to host Leinster runners-up Dublin, while Armagh will travel to meet the Dubs’ conquerors Longford.

Armagh were mostly keeping 13 players inside their own ‘45′, while Derry had lines of attackers right (and left) out on both flanks, then trying to stretch or switch play to find gaps.

Eamon Young.jpg
Eamon Young.jpg (seamus loughran)

Derry kept edging ahead, through their dynamic half-forward duo of Eamon Young and Ger Dillon from play and frees, but then Armagh continued to break out to peg them back level.

Derry were tackling impressively in defence but when Armagh did get a few more players up the pitch it brought them a 20th minute goal, and in a traditional manner. Ross Marsden launched a long kick-pass which was fielded high by Keady midfielder Jack Loughran and off-loaded to Duffy, and he calmly despatched a low left foot shot to the net.

Derry almost responded instantly and in similar style, when skipper James Sargent superbly found Young, who raced towards goal, but sent his shot over rather than under the bar.

Dillon levelled matters from a free and Derry then gained a numerical advantage when link player Marsden was black-carded for tripping Caoimhin Hargan.

Yet Derry still struggled to find a way round or through the mass of black shirts, except when some swift hand-passing sent Sargent through to slash a shot over, giving them the narrowest of half-time leads, 0-7 to 1-3.

McErlain pointed out that there was a different dimension to this match, not just that it was a final rather than a group game: “They were making sure we were well pressed out on the sidelines, and Omagh is such a big pitch you have to cut 40 yards before you’re in the scoring zone.”

Derry looked like they would make better use of the extra man after the teams turned around, forcing frees which Young and Dillon converted early in second half, but were soon stifled again.

Armagh were struggling to score themselves, but ended their long, 21-minute wait for a score when a quick free released Aaron Garvey to point on the run – and then a point from Fionn Toale somehow left just one between the teams, 0-9 to 1-5.

With their need for more scores growing, Armagh had to push players up, but were then penalised for a couple of ‘square ball’ offences.

Another consequence was leaving room at the back, which Derry exploited with runners from deep positions. The excellent Luke Grant scored after a jinking run, and later Rian Collins set up Young to score in added time.

In between Derry corner-forward Chris McCullagh seized on a kick-out to send Dillon in to point.

O’Rourke insisted Armagh always believed they could upset the favourites: “Three weeks ago didn’t really matter, whereas everything was on the line today. In fairness to the boys I couldn’t have asked any more from them in terms of effort, which was Herculean at times.

“You couldn’t question their scrap. They hung in and could have grabbed it. We had to try to force a goal at the end and we’d have felt we should have been closer, although Derry had chances too.”

Indeed although Derry were four up, 0-12 to 1-5, there was still time for Armagh to threaten, as Derry dropped back to defend their lead.

Duffy converted a free in the fourth minute of added time then, surprisingly, sent another one over the next minute rather than going for goal.

Wilson did make that attempt when Armagh won possession again from the kick-out, but Derry survived.

McErlain concluded by expressing delight with how his players had shouldered the burden of heavy expectation, saying:

“Only one team gets to win Ulster. Everybody said it would be us, so that’s a difficult mantle to carry.

“Ulster titles are not easy won, they’re never handed out. Every one is a brand new group and team to build. Absolutely delighted – you’d be absolutely devastated to lose.”

Derry: J McCloy; C McNally, R Canavan, R Collins; L Grant (0-1), C O Mianain, D McGuckin; J Sargent (capt.) (0-1), C McBride; E Young (0-5, 0-2 frees), G Dillon (0-5, 0-2 frees), C Hargan; C McCullagh, R Biggs, D Rocks.

Substitutes: P Haran for McNally (43); C Rocks for Hargan (48); T McHugh for McBride (54); G McIvor for McCullagh (61).

Armagh: M Finnegan; T Fox, G O’Rourke, C Wilson; Fergus Toale, S Woods (0-1), D O’Rourke; J Loughran, D O’Callaghan; A Garvey (0-1), J McCooe, K McEntee (0-1); Fionn Toale (0-1), E Duffy (1-3, 0-3 frees), R Marsden.

Black card: Marsden (28 mins, first half).

Substitutes: L Bellew for Marsden (38); S Loughran for Garvey (54); O Gribben for O’Callaghan (54); P Comiskey for D O’Rourke (61); C Dunne for Woods (61).

Referee: Barry McMenamin (Cavan).